What’s Gotten Into Horse Farms Forever?

What’s Gotten Into Horse Farms Forever?

We Are On A Mission!

A mission statement describes an organization’s reason for existence; it sets the course for the organization. Like a ship without a rudder, an organization without a mission statement can be easily blown off course.

The Horse Farms Forever® mission statement reads –

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever® to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts in Marion County, Florida.

When HFF® takes a position on a development or transportation matter, the first consideration is how does this position align with our mission statement. The next consideration is whether this matter deals with a compatible land use and is concurrent with the Marion County Comprehensive Plan.

In our watchdog role, if a development or roadway is proposed that affects horse farms in the rural area and especially in the Farmland Preservation Area, the HFF® staff gathers the facts, attends the meetings, contacts county staff and the developer, confers with our professional counselors, then prepares a draft position paper for our board of directors. Our nine directors then study the position paper and supporting documents and a meeting is held to review the recommendation of the HFF® staff. The board then makes a determination as to whether taking a position on the matter aligns with our mission statement, and further if the proposed matter is a compatible land use and concurrent with the Comprehensive Plan. The board then formalizes our position. That position is either opposition, neutral, support or no position depending on the circumstances. All formal positions taken by HFF® are posted to our website.

Over the 4 years since our inception, HFF® has taken just 9 formal positions – 2 regarding roadways and 7 regarding development. Of those 9 formal positions – 4 were in support, 3 were in opposition and 2 were neutral. Please refer to our website for the position papers. Here are 3 real-world examples of those different positions.


In 2020, a developer applied for a land use change and special use permit to allow an ATV racetrack and drag strip in rural Flemington inside the Farmland Preservation Area. The HFF® board deemed taking a position on this application aligned with our mission statement and further deemed the proposed land uses incompatible with the surrounding area and not concurrent with the Comprehensive Plan, which states, “…the Farmland Preservation Area is intended to encourage preservation of agriculture…. The County establishes this area as critical to the enhancement and preservation of its designation as the Horse Capital of the World®”. HFF® launched an aggressive grassroots media campaign to encourage the County Commissioners to deny the application, which they did.


In 2022, the owner of a 453-acre parcel inside the Irvine/Sunny Oaks Regional Activity Center (RGAC) adjacent to the Highway 318 interchange on I-75 applied to rezone the property from Agriculture to Planned Unit Development. This interchange includes a Future Land Use Element designation in the Comprehensive Plan that includes an Employment Center, a Commerce District and a RGAC. While this parcel is within the Farmland Preservation Area boundaries, these Future Land Use designations sit on top of and override the Farmland Preservation Area restrictions. Also, this parcel was granted the correct land use designation for this zoning request a decade ago.

The owner of this 453-acre parcel has a legal right to rezone this parcel from agriculture to an implementing zoning district for the specific Future Land Use designations. While the requested zoning change is to Planned Unit Development, there are other options that would satisfy the legal obligation of the County to rezone the property to an implementing zoning district. Nonetheless, they all allow significant retail, commercial and industrial development.

With the existing land use designation on this parcel and its location inside an Employment Center, a Commerce District and a RGAC, the end use of this parcel would never be a horse farm. For these reasons, the HFF® board stayed true to its mission statement and took a neutral position on the zoning application.

The HFF® position was limited to the specific zoning request on the 453-acre parcel and did not address the surrounding land. While it is unfortunate that a decade ago the county allowed the Future Land Use change for this 453-acre parcel as it surrounds legacy homestead properties, this action is virtually impossible to undo.


In July of 2021, Golden Ocala Equestrian Lands (GOEL) purchased the Ocala Jockey Club (OJC) property and other adjoining parcels. In September of 2021, GOEL asked HFF® to review and support their planned application to change the land use designation on the OJC to the WEC Rural classification. As a hotel and RV park were included in the plans, this would require a small-scale Text Amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.

The HFF® board deemed that taking a position on this request aligned with our mission. The board further deemed that the proposed land uses were compatible with the surrounding land uses and concurrent with the Comprehensive Plan. Here is why:

The first part of our mission statement as stated in our by-laws reads:

It is the mission of Horse Farms Forever® to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats.

While the OJC has lots of natural pasture land, virtually none of it was used for horses or horse farms.  There were a few horses in a barn near the training track, but otherwise it was 1,000 acres of empty pastureland. The equestrian events at the facility were few and far between (years). The GOEL proposal of clustering 94 horse farms on 300 acres to allow over 600 acres of open pastureland for a world class equestrian event facility for multiple disciplines that would also preserve and enhance the existing 4-star cross-country course for eventing seemed like smart planning. Also, GOEL predicted that numerous buyers of the lots would purchase more than one lot; therefore, the total number of farms would be even lower, perhaps by a third.

The HFF® board deemed the GOEL proposal for the WEC Jockey Club would do more to inspire the conservation of horse farms and preserve natural pasture land for horse farms in this specific area than anything HFF® could have ever done on its own. This is the right type of economic development to help horse farm owners maintain their property as horse farms.

The second part of our mission statement as stated in our by-laws reads:

It is the mission of Horse Farms Forever® to protect soil and water on which horse farms depend.

The OJC property was for sale for years and because of the size of the parcel the only viable buyer seemed to be a developer – either residential or potentially commercial. The OJC property is at the I-75 exchange with Highway 318 and borders an Employment Center, a Commerce District and the Irvine/Sunny Oaks RGAC where millions of square feet of commercial/industrial space are planned. That makes the OJC property a high-profile target for a commercial developer with deep pockets (for example, Tesla, Apple, Microsoft). Even a residential developer could put one-hundred 10-acre farms on that OJC property. That would equal hundreds of septic tanks, which are a poor solution to dealing with waste. The same is true for hundreds of individual water wells. It’s just not economically feasible for a developer of 10-acre farms in that region to provide common water/waste utilities.

The opposite is true for the GOEL proposal, which has the economic model to support a community water/waste system. HFF® deemed the requirement for GOEL to install a common water system and state-of-the-art waste treatment plant on the property as the best way to protect soil and water in the area for future generations of horse farms.

The third part of our mission statement as stated in our by-laws reads:

It is the mission of Horse Farms Forever® to minimize land use conflicts in Marion County, Florida.

On the OJC parcel, because of the size of the parcel and surrounding properties, the HFF® board took the position that the proposed uses were compatible with the surrounding uses and concurrent with the Comprehensive Plan. With the combination of the existing lime rock mine to the south, the existing Chi University campus to the west, the existing high-density and expanding RV park to the east, and the pending development of the I-75 interchange that includes an Employment Center, a Commerce District and a RGAC with millions of square feet of commercial and industrial space just a stone’s throw to the east, allowing a hotel and the RV park inside the grounds of the WEC OJC complex was deemed a compatible land use. The hotel and RV park will reduce the amount of traffic on Highways 318 and 225 by lowering the number of trips in and out of the facility.

Thus, the HFF® board answered the question … does supporting this Golden Ocala Equestrian Lands request for the small-scale Text Amendment regarding the WEC Rural land use, including a hotel and RV park, on the Ocala Jockey Club property align with the HFF® mission statement and the Comprehensive Plan?  Yes.

In September of 2021, the HFF® board voted to support the GOEL request with conditions. Those conditions included requiring the Text Amendment to the WEC Rural land use to be used exclusively for the OJC parcel. Also, HFF negotiated the removal of the B-2 zoning on the iconic Plumley and Crupi horse farms that front on US Highway 27, right at the southern entrance to the Farmland Preservation Area on US 27. The HFF board deemed this B-2 zoning on these horse farms as a high priority incompatible land use. GOEL agreed to the conditions, giving up millions of dollars in business and development land value.

The FPA Is Home 

The 9 directors of Horse Farms Forever® are all Marion County horse farm owners and coincidentally all their farms are in the Farmland Preservation Area. In all matters, the board works hard to stay true to our mission statement. That includes well-defined strategic and marketing plans to implement that mission. We remain true to our watchdog role by being present and heard while attending thousands of hours of government and industry meetings. We work to be factual, educational and transparent by using our website as a library for all our corporate documents, tax returns, position statements and other awareness and educational resources.

With that said, Horse Farms Forever® is not in a popularity contest. The HFF® mission statement is the rudder that guides our ship. When others disagree with the position HFF® takes on a matter, perhaps it is because they have a different mission. Nonetheless, and regardless of the veracity of their argument, we are always respectful of other opinions.

The vision of Horse Farms Forever® is to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve the character and culture that horses and the Farmland Preservation Area make unique to Marion County. We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations – especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.

Marion County Five-Year Strategic Plan Takes Farmland Preservation Into Account

Marion County Five-Year Strategic Plan Takes Farmland Preservation Into Account

Marion County In The Binoculars

Every five years, the Marion County Commission adopts a five-year Strategic Plan to help guide growth and development. The draft Marion County Administrative Strategic Plan 2022 – 2026: Empowering Marion for Success, was presented to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) at a workshop held on July 7, 2021. The purpose of the workshop was to present the draft plan to the County Commission and receive their input on staff’s recommendations.

The Strategic Plan is organized into five Elements:

  1. Organizational Experience
  2. Resources and Facilities
  3. Planning and Future Growth
  4. Public Infrastructure
  5. Public Safety

Every County department developed recommendations, action steps, and potential funding sources. This plan takes a comprehensive approach to planning for growth to help ensure that the County is able to keep up with the demand in services and provide good customer service overall.  The plan’s Executive Summary states:

“As with the previous five-year plan, this plan will be the road map for our operations as we continue to deliver services to our citizens and visitors at the highest possible level.”

The good news is that the Strategic Plan includes several recommendations to protect the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA) and to help retain Marion County’s unique rural character. It makes several recommendations to:

“focus on our outdoor assets and natural resources to preserve their quality so they continue to define their character and play a major role in attracting visitors and guests to Marion County and represent a positive economic impact.”

Strategic Plan Major issues:

  • Staffing shortage in some County departments
  • The availability of affordable workforce housing and apartments for rent
  • Multiple road widening and expansion projects
  • Lack of public infrastructure, libraries, and recreational opportunities in some areas of the county
  • Aging infrastructure and buildings
  • Urban sprawl

Strategic Plan Goals:

  • Providing incentives for infill and multi-family housing developments
  • Directing growth to vested developments
  • Expanding roads and trail networks
  • Providing expanded recreational opportunities
  • Developing user friendly information about parks to increase outdoor tourism
  • Preserving natural resources
  • Protecting water quantity and quality
  • Providing a safe community

Spotlight On Element 3: Planning and Future Growth

Mounir Bouyounes, Marion County Administrator, introduced the Strategic Plan and emphasized the amount of work done on the Planning and Future Growth Element.

“There are a lot of new ideas and information being presented to you. It’s not new, but these are ideas that we are bringing to the forefront and see where we take it from here,” said Bouyounes.

Angel Roussel, Assistant County Administrator, Public and Environmental Services Director, led the team for the Planning and Future Growth Element. The report included input from several stakeholders to understand the County’s strengths and weaknesses. The Planning and Future Growth Committee met with multiple County departments and stakeholders in the community and some of their suggestions were incorporated into the report.

Roussel emphasized that new growth and development should be focused within the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) and in strategic areas including the FL Cross Roads Commerce Park, SR 200, World Equestrian Center (WEC) and the NW 49th Street Interchange area.

“This will help us stay out of the Farmland Preservation Area and focus on infill,” said Roussel. “It’s all a balancing act.”

Development Pressure On The FPA Boundary

There are several recommendations to help protect the Farmland Preservation Area in the Strategic Plan but several new roads proposed as “vision projects” near the southeast corner of the FPA boundary near the intersection of CR 225A and US Hwy 27 will increase development pressure in that area. Vision Projects are not yet approved or funded. The pink lines on the map above show the locations of these Vision Project roads, all located outside the Farmland Preservation Area. The green and yellow lines show approved project roads.

A new road is proposed to connect SW/NW 80/70th Avenue to SW 60th Avenue and also provide access north to US 27.

Another new road is proposed that will run parallel to I-75 on the east side of I-75 that will connect to CR 326. This new road is an extension of NW 39th Avenue Road, which is where the distribution centers for Amazon, Chewy’s, Auto Zone, and Fed Ex are located.

In addition to the two new roads, NW 44th Avenue, an existing road which runs parallel to I-75 from US 27 to CR 326 on the west side of the interstate, was recommended to be four-laned from NW 63rd Street to CR 326. The south end of NW 44th Avenue is already four-laned. In order to maintain the level of service for the road due to the increase in residential, industrial and warehouse development, four-laning the rest of NW 44th Avenue is necessary.

If approved, these would be in addition to the already approved extension of NW 49th Street – a road that will connect CR 225A to the new I-75 interchange. About half of the road, Section 3A, is funded for construction in fiscal year 2020/2021. The second half of the road is funded for construction for fiscal year 2022/2023. See our blog about the SW/NW 80/70th Avenue road-widening project for background: https://www.horsefarmsforever.com/update-sw-nw-80th-70th-avenue-road-widening-and-northern-turnpike-extension/

Farmland On The Forefront

The recommendations to help protect the Farmland Preservation Area include:

  • Create an FPA inventory for Analysis: Analyze the designated FPA and create an inventory of the existing farmland including location, acreage, zoning, physical land use and any other designation.
  • Family Division Analysis: Research and review the family divisions that have occurred in the past and analyze the effectiveness by determining if said family divisions remain within the family ownership.
  • Opportunity Zones & Farmland Preservation Overlap Analysis: Analyze the validity of this designation and make recommendations to explore the efficacy of retaining the FPA within an Opportunity Zone.
  • Protect the rural character of the Farmland Preservation Area by Creating additional Buffering:  By providing buffer alternatives, future development will have a predictable specification, which will ease new development while preserving the rural character of this resource.
  • Review and Modify the Transfer of Development Rights Program: Review the Transfer Development Rights program and propose changes if needed to ensure maximum effectiveness of the program.

Builders Make a Case For Higher Density

At the end of the meeting, there was an opportunity for public comments. Florida House of Representatives Stan McClain attended the meeting, but he was representing the building Industry instead of the legislative agenda.

“We are 4,000 units short. Even if we built 4,000 houses tomorrow, we would be behind the next day,” said McClain. He said the building industry understands the water and sewer issues and suggested that the BOCC consider higher density due to the increased property values. “With land values now, the lots in Silver Springs Shores were $8,000, but now that same lot is $25,000. You are going to have to look at density and putting water and sewer in,” he said. “When you talk about sprawl, sprawl happens when you do ¼ acre lots everywhere, so you have to find places where we can get the densities right and approve them. That’s just the way it is, otherwise we will continue to sprawl.”

Commissioner Kathy Bryant added some final comments about the future of Marion County:

“Growth is here and it’s happening and we are not stopping growth and I don’t think there is anyone sitting on this Board that has the intention of stopping growth. But I will say for me, I think a lot about it. When I drive down the turnpike and I’ve got to Orlando and you just see the fields of houses – the rooftop after rooftop after rooftop. I don’t want our County to look like that. I’m sorry and I know that there is some development that will look like that, but it doesn’t mean we can’t still  make it a nice place to live. In 20 or 30 years, what kind of legacy are we leaving?”

Protect Against Urban Sprawl

Things are moving fast in Marion County. Horse Farms Forever is a farmland watch dog, attending countless hours of hearings and meetings. When action is required, we are there at the table. Join us to stay informed and ready to respond when public comments are needed. Together we can protect and preserve our open spaces and beautiful places for future generations.

Dig Deeper

Link to the Marion County Administrative Strategic Plan 2022 – 2026: Empowering Marion for Success

VIDEO of the July 7, 2021 BOCC WORKSHOP:
The Planning and Future Growth Element starts at 1:04.52 in the video link.

Busy Shires

What About Zoning?

The Zoning regulations are found in the Land Development Code, which is a separate document with specific guidelines to implement the Goals, Objectives, and Policies of the Comprehensive Plan.

Zoning regulates development through land use classifications and specifies the areas in which residential, industrial, recreational or commercial activities may take place. The Land Development Code was adopted through a series of ordinances by the County Commission, which means that the regulations cannot be changed or waived, except by a further vote of the County Commission.

Always Watching

We work hard to keep you informed, and to represent our members' interests in preserving our horse farms, farmland and the unique character and culture of Marion County's 193,000 acre Farmland Preservation Area.

Join the herd. Every voice matters.